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"Peter--A Disciple in the Making"

by Frank Schaefer

based on Mat 26:69-75

This is Palm Sunday on which the crowds at Jerusalem cheered Jesus as the new King. "Hosannah," they shouted. "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord." Here is what always boggles my mind about this scene: five days--only five days--later that same crowd shouts "Crucify him." Hard to understand, or is it?

If you look around today you notice that such fickleness seems to be part of human nature. We all know how quickly public opinion can turn around. Today, you may be celebrated as a superstar one day and your reputation may be down the drain the next day.

What must have really hurt Jesus, more so than the turnabout in his public opinion poll, is the fact that even his closest friends and followers, especially his disciples, left him in his hour of despair. Today we want to look at one person in particular, Simon Peter, of whom Jesus once said he was the rock on which God was going to build the church.

Peter did have a lot of good qualities and leadership potential. He was a God-fearing, loyal person. He was zealous for the kingdom of God. Now, he wasn’t one of those submarine Christians that emerge on Easter Suandy and Christmas Eve in church. No, Peter was a fighter, one to change the world in the name of God, one to speak up and even willing to lay down his life for the good fight. Once Peter swore an oath to Jesus, never to fail him. He said: "Lord I am ready to go with you to prison--and even to die for you."

Reminds me of the question our Sunday School teacher once asked us. When we talked about the end times, about the day of tribulation, when the followers of Jesus once again will be thrown in prison and put to death on account of their faith. She asked "will you say you’re a Christian even if they will throw you in prison for it?" "Would you die for Jesus?" No doubt, Peter’s answer to that question was "yes."

But then we read our passage this morning and we see Peter fail. He wasn’t able to live up to his promise. He turns around and denounces Jesus. "I don’t know that . . . Jesus for heaven’s sakes." And then he rmembers Jesus’s words, "before the cock will crow three times you will have disowned me." And what had Peter answered the Lord: "Never. Never in a million years." Tears run down his face. "Jesus was right. I’ve betrayed my Lord." Peter learned something that day: through the grace of God I stand. If I am going to stand as a Christian I need the help of God. "Not by (human) might, not by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord"

Much later, Peter writes in his first epistle: "I am writing all this for the purpose that you "stand fast in the grace of God." Stand fast in the grace of God. Not by might, nor by power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter had learned that lesson the hard way.

This morning we have nine young men and women who made a promise in front of God and God’s people to be faithful to Jesus in life and in death. How do we know that they will keep their promise? How do we know we will keep the promise we made? The truth is: we don’t, and we can’t be sure about our promise. We stand fast in the grace of God and God alone.

So, we aren’t perfect, we don’t always do the right things and we don’t always know the right answers--isn’t that right confirmants? We might not even be sure whether we really understand the significance of God’s salvation. But one thing is sure: we can stand, we can prevail, we can endure everything . . . . .when we stand in the grace of God.

And that’s good news in a world that tells us: "if you screw up in any way, you’re through. If you go bankrupt, you’re not creditable, if you have any kind of criminal record you’re not fit for society, if you live on welfare you’ll never get anywhere, if you’re divorced there must be something wrong with you.

But God tells us throughout this Holy Week: even if you fail once or twice or three times, as long as you get up on your feet again, he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it. And you will stand not because of your own power, but because the power of the Almighty who led Jesus through the depth of human despair and came out victorious.

No matter what the world tells us God says: "my son, my daughter, by my grace you WILL stand!" "Not by power, nor by might, but by my Spirit says the Lord!"

And at the end of his life, Peter did fulfil his promise to Jesus to die for him, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is reported that he was smuggled out of Rome by the church at a time when Christians were thrown in prison and executed on account of their belief in Jesus. Peter was already in safety, travelling away from Rome, when he had an apparition of Jesus walking toward Rome. And Peter asked Jesus: "domine, quo vadis?" (my Lord, where are you going?) And Jesus answered him: "I am going to Rome to be crucified again." And Peter said, "no, Lord, you are not."

And he turned around, went into Rome, handed himself over to the authorities and was crucified. His only request was, "please don’t crucify me like they did my Lord, because I am not worthy of dying like he did." So, they hung him on the cross upside-down. The same Peter who had cursed Jesus in order to save his own life, stood tall on his promise to dy for his Lord, not on his own strength, but because he had matured in the grace and the power of God.

Impressed by the way in which Peter and thousands of other Christians died, a Roman historian wrote: "if the Christian faith is worth dying for, perhaps it is also worth living for." Good word! Brothers and sisters, let us walk confidently, but not in the confidence of the self-made Christian, but in the confidence of the grace and the power of God in our lives. Let us learn from Peter, who learned to stand and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, despite our human weaknesses. Amen.


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